KPUD's working out kinks in Poulsbo Wi-Fi project

POULSBO — It's been nearly eight months since downtown Poulsbo went online, over the air, with free Wi-Fi access.

The pilot program launched by the Kitsap Public Utility District aimed to lay the foundation for other Wi-Fi ventures throughout the county. Now, the utility is checking in with city officials on the results of the program so far.

Dave Jones, business manager of KPUD, updated the City Council's economic development committee Wednesday on the status of the Wi-Fi project in Poulsbo. So far, he said, things are going well. He noted, however, that there are a few dead spots in the downtown coverage area that they are looking to remedy.

"We know there are some holes," Jones said, noting that KPUD will address the issue once it has finished working out the kinks in other projects throughout the region, such as Port Orchard and Kingston, and further setting up pilot programs on Bainbridge Island and in Bremerton. He said another issue they've discovered is that small mobile devices, such as cell phones, may be able to pick up a decent Wi-Fi signal from the utility, yet are not strong enough to return the signal; laptops and tablets have the capability to communicate strongly with the antennas.

Jones said KPUD will likely place antennas closer to ground level. "We are learning that we are going to need something closer to the ground for mobile devices," Jones said. "We will have to put in more antennas. What they look like, where they will be at, we don't know yet."

Currently, Wi-Fi antennas covering downtown Poulsbo are mounted at four locations: The First Lutheran Church, The Loft, Tizley's Europub and the Hare and Hounds. Other downtown merchants are eager to be a part of the project, so adding more Wi-Fi antennas won't be an issue for the utility, Jones said.

"We have a pool of properties that have volunteered their site for antennas," he said.

Jones further noted that other neighborhoods in the area have already shown interest in spreading KPUD's Wi-Fi to their area, such as around Finn Hill where homeowners associations inquired about mounting antennas on light poles. Such interest is exactly what KPUD has hoped for. The utility began the Wi-Fi pilot programs in Kitsap communities with the goal of attracting community support for more programs down the road.

"What we're trying to build is a community network," he said. "As these initial antennas go up, we want the community to ask for more. It's more of having the community pull from us, rather than have us push it on them."

While KPUD can provide the means of accessing the Internet — fiber wire — but by law, it cannot sell the access. A third party has to step between the utility and the customer to act as a retailer. KPUD hopes the pilot programs will provide a foundation to build a new branch of the utility that will reach into the World Wide Web.

"With this initial pilot, there are no charges," Jones said. "We are just proving the technology, and what it takes to make it work."

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